Imagine if your neighbors homes and or churches were being bombed similar to what happened yesterday at the Boston Marathon. But rather than an outpouring of support the mood seemed to be who cares. Police weren't actively investigating and dozens of such bombings happened without an arrest.
50 years ago today Martin Luther King Jr sat in a jail cell in Birmingham Alabama. Arrested with other civil rights leaders for disobeying a Judges order to stop picketing the police and city leaders who weren't doing anything to stop the killings.
8 white clergymen posted an open letter in the press labeling King and others he travelled with as outsiders and chastising them for breaking the law. In their letter entitled "A Call To Unity" they wrote;
We are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders. We agree rather with certain local Negro leadership which has called for honest and open negotiation in our area. And we believe this kind of facing of issues can best be accomplished by citizens of our own metropolitan area, white and Negro, meeting with their knowledge and experience of the local situation. All of us need to face that responsibility and find proper channels for its accomplishment. Just as we formerly pointed out that "hatred and violence have no sanction in our religious and political traditions", we also point out that such actions as incite to hatred and violence, however technically peaceful those actions may be, have not contributed to the resolution of our local problems. We do not believe that these days of new hope are days when extreme measures are justified in Birmingham. We commend the community as a whole, and the local news media and law enforcement officials in particular, on the calm manner in which these demonstrations have been handled.
It was a very PC letter for the time, and was the mood of most American's in 1963. To recap blacks may have had a raw deal but things are getting better, thanks to whites compromises. But if blacks are going to cause unrest in our cities well they are only hurting themselves. So if you're black be patient and if someone suggests a protest understand that's going to hurt your community, not help it.
King responded with what would become an 11 page letter. He scribbled it out on the margins of newspapers since he was refused writing paper. He then had his lawyers smuggle it out and reassembled by another pastor. These 11 pages served as the founding documents for the modern civil rights movement.
King addresses the letter to "My Dear Fellow Clergymen". Then goes on to explain why he is not an outsider but even if he was he and all American's who love Jesus should be in Birmingham now because injustice is being done to God's people. He points out the hypocrisy of the clergy who are upset by the protests but not the conditions that brought them on. Here's a photo from the Sixteenth Street Church bombing.
Image: Birmingham Public Library
King talks about the need for Birmingham leaders to respond to these atrocities. Furthermore he addresses the fact that blacks are being prevented from making progress in Alabama. "There are some counties in which negroes are the vast majority, and not a single negro is registered to vote. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?"
King reminds the clergy that civil disobedience is taught in the bible. That when King Nebuchadnezzar passed certain laws God's people disobeyed. That America itself was built on civil disobedience in the form of the Boston Tea Party. "We should never forget that everything Adolph Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal". King struck a chord with Christians all over the world when he wrote "Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world"?
Like the scales falling from the eyes of Paul millions of Christians were awoke. Right is right and wrong is wrong. When you play games to find "your truth" you end up in dangerous places like siding with city leaders who believe more harm will come to blacks if they began prosecuting the people killing them. Thank you Martin Luther King for making the sacrifice of imprisonment to help share God's word with all of us. And that sacrifice improved America for all of us.
Photo: Birmingham public Library